The University of Manchester is renowned for its beautiful nineteenth-century buildings on Oxford Road. Tucked away behind the Gothic splendour of the Manchester Museum and the Whitworth Hall is a small church, which really does stand out from everything around it. It is now known as the Stephen Joseph Studio but what did it used to be? How and why is there an old church in the middle of a university campus? I suspect this is the case for many older universities but also for those founded on the fringes of city centres. How does this building reflect a long-lost community of Manchester’s past?
When the church was first built in the mid-nineteenth century, it was located in Greenheys, a district to the south of Manchester which bordered Chorlton-upon-Medlock and Hulme. The area is now consumed by Moss Side and if you were to ask a modern resident of Manchester where Greenheys was, I think they would struggle to give an answer.
However, this was not the case in the nineteenth century. Greenheys was approximately 1.5 miles from the centre of Manchester and until the 1830s it was largely open, rural countryside on the edges of the town. The name of the area was supposedly coined by Mary De Quincey, the mother of author Thomas De Quincey. The family had a house built there in 1791, when there were very few other buildings. Mary De Quincey named the house ‘Greenhay’ and the name stuck as urbanisation encroached on the area. Greenhay Hall itself was demolished in 1852.
Who did the church serve?
The church was built on Wright Street, which ran parallel with Oxford Road (access to it was via Lime Grove). The streets are now lost under various buildings belonging to the University.
In her article “Manchester’s German Gentlemen: Immigrant in a Provincial City, 1840-1920“, Su Coates stated that the building was built as a Dutch Protestant Church and the German Protestant community shared the premises, only purchasing the building in 1871. However, the Manchester presses do not make any mention of Dutch Protestant Church on Wright Street and refer to it as the German Church from outset in the 1850s. One article mentions deeds drawn up for the German Protestant Church in February 1854. Another mentions the foundations were laid in April 1854 and a concert with music by Charles Halle was held at the Town Hall on King Street to raise funds. The first service was held there, in German, in September 1855.
The church was known as the “Deutsche Protestantische Kirche, with the Evangelisch-Unirter Confession” or more commonly referred to as German Protestant Church. The strange mixture of German and English in the name of the church was reflective of the community which it served.
There was a growing German community in Manchester from the early nineteenth century, when Manchester’s foreign trade routes opened up following the French peace treaty of 1801. Jonathan Westway estimated there were around 1000 German-born persons in Manchester by 1851. A large number of these were merchants and as such they grew considerably wealthy. The German community tended to live in close proximity to each other. From 1838 Greenheys was a popular district for German-born residents, as was Chorlton-upon-Medlock. Maurice Spiers estimated that one-third of the residents of the private gated community of Victoria Park in Rusholme were of German origin.
From this we can see that the German-born community lived in the same areas and they also tended to inter-marry. This is where the German Church comes into prominence; it served as a focal point for the community. Moreover, its location in the middle of several fashionable districts south of the city meant the vast majority of its congregation were wealthy families and individuals.
The German Protestant Church
The Church was a relatively plain building externally, although it was described at the time as “a handsome, grey stone building, with stained glass windows, and a beautiful interior“, with seats for 350 people. In May 1855, Reverend H. E. Marotzky was appointed as the first minister. Marotzky, originally came from Konigsberg (Konigsberg was renamed Kaliningrad after the end of the Second World War).
Although catering for the German community, the Church played an active role within Mancunian society. Just like other churches and chapels, the German Protestant Church was involved in annual fundraisers for charities and other philanthropic projects. The Church donated money as part of the annual subscription for the Infirmary and the figures raised reflect the wealth of the congregation; £22/7s/10d was raised in 1860 (roughly £2000 in 2019) and a similar amount was raised a decade later in 1870, £15/7s/2d (roughly £1443 in 2019).
By the dawn of the twentieth century, the minister of the Church was Reverend Willy Veit. Veit was born in Germany 1873 and he moved to Manchester with his wife Else (b.1878) around 1898. Their children; a son, Hans (b.1901) and a daughter, Anne Marie Freida Luise (b.1905) were born in Didsbury. The family did not live near the Church, instead they resided at 6 Egerton Road in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, a couple of miles away, along with a cook and a housemaid.
The congregation consisted of a mixture of German-born members and second or third generations, descended from these German migrants. There would have been contested feelings for many Germans in Manchester in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, particularly concerning their patriotism. In June 1870, the North German Reichstag introduced a law which stated a German lost his nationality and rights to citizenship if he had lived abroad continuously for a decade or more. This law was adopted across the country after the unification of German States in 1871. Therefore, many German-born members of the congregation were actually naturalised British subjects and certainly their offspring were British subjects. It must be noted here that under the Naturalisation Act of 1870 (a British law), British women who married an ‘alien’ thereby renounced their British citizenship and took the nationality of their husband. By examining the events held at the Church and other charities they raised money for, it is possible to see this confused, dual-aspect to the status of many members of the congregation and the wider German community.
A prominent feature in the services of the German Protestant Church concerned the German monarchy. The Church was filled to capacity in June 1888 during a service held upon the death of Kaiser Wilhelm I. In 1913, there was a special sermon at the Church to celebrate the silver jubilee of Kaiser Wilhelm II, which was followed by a luncheon at the Midland Hotel. This kind of patriotism was not unsurprising, given the close familial ties between the British and German royal families. Queen Victoria was the mother-in-law of Kaiser Frederick III and the grandmother of Wilhelm II.
A party was held at the Midland Hotel in January 1914 to celebrate the Kaiser’s birthday. It was hosted by Captain Theodore Schlagintweit, the Imperial German Consul in Manchester (he was also a chemical merchant). The party was attended by many prominent German and non-German members of society, including the Mayor of Manchester and the Mayor of Salford. The party was also celebrating changes to the 1870 German law on citizenship, which had been revised in 1913. The German community also raised a huge amount of money for charitable causes as part of the celebrations. Across the United Kingdom £38,000 (approx. £3.5 million in 2019) was raised. In Manchester alone £1250 (approx. £177,800) was raised. The charities supported were all German-based: the German’s Seamen’s Mission, the German local school, the German Protestant Church in Wright Street, the Distressed Foreigners’ Society (Manchester branch) and for London based charities: the Germany Polytechnic School, the Farm Colony, and the Central Institution for Providing for the German aged poor.
Whilst the amount of money raised was an impressive figure, the charities it was distributed to would infer there was a division within society at this time, which each community taking care of ‘its own’. This was coupled with increasing political tension between the two countries across the first decade or so of the twentieth century. These tensions were even highlighted in a joke made by the Lord Mayor during his speech at the party that night. When referring to Manchester’s 4000 strong German community under the jurisdiction of Captain Schlaginweit, he stated:
“Well, it is a good job he has not got any more, or with his leader, invasion might be very dangerous.”
The General Commissioner made a more tactful speech. He stated: ” Every one of us, whatever his opinions, can contribute, each in his own way, his little mite towards a mutual better understanding. Sooner or later these efforts must bear fruit. The leading statesmen on both sides of the Channel have of late affirmed repeatedly that the relations between the English and the German Governments are more friendly.” Indeed the Minister of the German Protestant Chapel at the time, Reverend Martin Kramer was one such individual who attempted to bridge the gap between German and British cultures.
Kramer was born in Germany in 1873. He came to Manchester in 1905 and in 1906 he married Luise Marstaller (b.1884). Like the Veits before them, the Kramers lived at Egerton Road. Their household was truly a melting pot of cultures, which reflected Manchester in the Edwardian period. Martin and his children’s governess, Hermine Goss were both born in Germany. Luise was a German citizen but she was born in Italy. The Kramers cook, Kate Riley was Irish. Their four children, Mathilde (b.1907), Hertha (b.1909), Helmut (b.1911) and Martin (b.1912) were all born in Manchester.
As well as acting as minister, Kramer also taught modern languages at Salford Technical School, he held services at the YMCA on Peter Street every Wednesday for guests in local hotels and he also ran the Gould Street Mission among Manchester’s poor. In early July 1914, he announced he would be leaving Manchester as he had accepted a position in Germany. The local newspaper noted the news “will be received with by regret by many who are not members of the German community in Manchester.” Unfortunately for Kramer, he postponed his leaving until September at the request of his congregation. Just under a month later, on 4th August 1914, Britain and Germany were at war. Kramer was now the enemy.
Germans in Manchester during the First World War
Due to his position as German Consul and due to the fact he was a reserve officer in the Bavarian Jagers, Captain Schlagintweit was placed under a form of house arrest. Under these restrictions, he was not allowed to travel more than five miles from his home in Whalley Range without notifying the police. He was arrested in late August for travelling to Turton, which was beyond the boundaries. For this he was fined £5. However, fears were expressed that he was travelling within the vicinity of an army training camp. He was arrested on 23rd August at 1:30am and imprisoned in the Town Hall. From there he was taken to an internment camp, Dyffryn Aled at Denbigh, Wales. Conditions at the camp was very basic and it was obvious it had been thrown together hastily. Schlagintweit complained the men were forced into three rooms, had no wash basins and were forced to eat out of tins with their hands.
As the war stagnated and each side got stuck into bitter trench warfare, tensions in the city began to rise. On 1st March 1915, the Manchester Courier noted that German Street in Ancoats was to be renamed ‘Radium Street’ because local business owners complained the name was affecting trade. The next day it was revealed that Captain Schlagintweit had been sent to Germany as part of an exchange with a British Consul who was also being kept as Prisoner of War. Manchester councillor H. Ross Clyne was outraged. He referred to Schlagintweit as “Manchester’s prisoner” and thought he should have been prosecuted in the city. This was a far cry from attitudes just 11 months earlier, where the Lord Mayor had described Schlagintweit as “at all times a loyal citizen, and brought a great deal of brightness into the dull, damp surroundings of Manchester.”
Attitudes towards the German residents in Manchester was wearing thin, regardless of gender or class. A letter written to a newspaper complained that British women were going to the mansions of Victoria Park to “hob-nob with the German women, and sigh for peace that Germany may hear.” The anonymous author was clearly frustrated that the women, who had been friends in peace time, were continuing to associate with each other, with the added possibility that the German women could be spies. The author lamented “their talk will prolong the war […] what a pity we cannot draw some people’s tongues.”
May 1915: Neighbour v. Neighbour
On 7th May 1915, the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by a German U-Boat. The ship was carrying 1,962 passengers and crew. The Lusitania sank in just 18 minutes with the loss of 1,198 lives (the Lusitania sank shockingly quickly, especially compared to the sinking of the Titanic, which sank in 2 hours and 40 minutes). The tragedy sparked outrage on both sides of the Atlantic and the British press in particular used the sinking to promote enlistment in the army.
On 10th May 1915, in response to the Lusitania sinking, tensions reached boiling point in Manchester and Salford. Women at a box factory in Ancoats walked out on strike. They claimed they would no longer work alongside five men at the factory. Four of the men were German-born but had worked at the factory for over twenty years, the fifth man was British-born to German parents. It was noted in the press that “the women became hysterical” and would not return to work. A large crowd quickly congregated outside the factory, waving Union Jacks but the situation was deemed so dangerous, the men were fired from their jobs. They had to be smuggled out of the factory by a different entrance and they were carried across the canal, hidden in the bottom of barges. Whilst there was widespread jubilation about the sacking of the men, the newspaper reported that the majority of the men had married English women and had families. The article noted that women who were married to unemployable Germans or men with German-sounding surnames meant the “outlook for them and their children is not a promising one.”
Following the strikes were riots across Manchester and Salford. It must be noted here that the riots were directed at working-class German residents, namely pork butchers which was a popular profession for many immigrants and in a lot of cases the violence was ignited by women and girls. Two butchers shops were attacked on Ashton New Road, and shops and houses were also attacked on Oxford Road, Rusholme Road, Oldham Road, Abbey Hey Lane, Chancery Lane and in Hightown, Collyhurst and Gorton. It was reported “in all cases the crowds were very hostile.”
In Salford one policeman stated “I have never seen anything like this in the twenty-three years I have been in the force.” It was estimated that crowds of around 6000 people gathered at the five places attacked that night. It must be remembered at this time that most of these small business owners lived above their shops, so their homes and families were attacked as well. Given the narrowness of some streets, it must have been terrifying to be trapped in the properties. Georgina Pressler was landlady of the Royal Hotel. The crowd were so thorough in their deliberate destruction of her pub, they even pulled up the oil cloths from the floor. At the premises of a man named F. Praz the police were powerless to stop the rioting. Food was thrown into the street and a piano was dropped from a window, the crowd playing ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ before smashing the instrument. Looting was also rife, one woman even complained to the police that she’d only been able to secure a pot a dripping compared to others who had managed to pinch more valuable objects.
Mistakes were made as the frenzy of the crowds drove them to attack any business with a foreign name. Mr Hallorn, who lived on Lower Broughton Road was of Russian heritage. His younger brother, a student at the University of Manchester, enlisted in the British army but was told instead to join the Russian army, given his background and the fact these two countries were allies. Mr Hallorn’s house and premises were attacked by a mob, one rock thrown through a window landed just two feet from his child’s bed. Another Russian man in Salford had his shop window smashed even though he displayed a certificate stating he was not German. One man who also lived in Lower Broughton Road faced the crowds and stated “do I look German to you?”, the crowd departed when they found out he had served in the Boer War.
The riots continued the across the next few days. On 12th May 1915, some girls went into an Austrian butcher’s shop in Greengate. They purchased some offal but then threw it back in the butcher’s face. A crowd gathered and made the area impassable and mounted police had to be brought into rescue the butcher’s wife, who was ill with pneumonia. As she was taken away in the ambulance the crowd booed and hissed.
In Gorton, Mrs Jenner, the British-born widow of a German was out when her house was attacked. Her daughter, who lived next door was at home and she made it clear to the crowd she had two sick children in the house, nonetheless her windows were also smashed. Mrs Jenner’s house was completely destroyed. All the furniture was taken out and thrown on a bonfire, the flames rose to the height of the house. A crowd gathered around the bonfire singing songs. The crowd did not know, or simply did not care, that Mrs Jenner had two sons in the British army.
In Higher Openshaw, Mr Lambert had the unfortunate experience of being attacked twice. On the first instance, Monday night, a crowd gathered around Mr Lambert’s house and shop on Ashton New Road. Lambert had been naturalised at the age of 13. The crowd, approx. 2000 strong, surrounded the building and sang ‘Rule Britannia’, ‘God save the King’ and shouted ‘down with the German murderers’ and ‘down with the murderers of women and children.’ A special constable was able to get into the house to help rescue Lambert’s young daughter, who was ill at the time. The family and the constable had to shelter in the bathroom in complete darkness to avoid the stones which thrown through the windows. He was able to get the family out of the back door, “under a hurricane of stones”. Mrs Lambert fainted once they had reached safety.
Lambert and his family then went to his other shop on Abbey Hey Lane. He had had the foresight to send his children away but also in the house this time was his wife, his elderly mother and a friend who had unfortunately come to the house to seek refuge after fleeing similar anti-German riots in Liverpool. Just one day after being attacked, a crowd gathered outside this shop. The family, in fear for their lives, clambered out of an open window. Mrs Lambert was rescued by a police officer on horseback. Mr Lambert, his friend and his mother walked through the crowd; the men were attacked and abused, blood was even drawn but it was noted the crowd were respectful towards the elderly lady. The house was emptied of furniture and set on fire.
By the 12th May, the Exchange in Manchester decided to ban all German, Austrian and Turkish nationalities, even those who had been naturalised. This would have been a huge blow to many of the wealthier Germans who relied on business transactions carried out there. Some restaurants followed this precedent and the Manchester Limited Restaurants noted they would no longer serve foreign aliens.
By the 13th May, a hundred German men were arrested, following orders given by the Chief Constable. They were not the only ones in trouble with the police. By 24th May, 90 people had been arrested in Salford in connection with the looting of German shops and homes and also with pick-pocketing the crowds. Speaking at Manchester Cathedral, Bishop Welldon spoke about “the spirit of cowardice” shown by the residents of Manchester and Salford during the riots.
Whilst the non-discriminatory riots caused a huge amount of psychical damage to buildings, there was also a human cost. George William Schneider was 25 years old in 1915. He was born in Yorkshire to German parents. During the riots on 11th May, his butcher’s shop on Conran Street in Harpurhey was attacked by the crowds. The premises were ruined and business was at a complete standstill. George’s family were dependent on his income. His father was dead and his brother was in the British army. His mother had lived with him until the riots forced her to leave. In despair over the situation and his treatment by his neighbours, George committed suicide on 18th May.
What happened to the German Protestant Church?
Unsurprisingly, the German Protestant Church in Wright Street closed its doors just a few weeks after war broke out in 1914. This was directed by the police as a precautionary measure. The signage was taken down and the gates locked. The only visitor to the Church was the former organist who was allowed to maintain the instrument. Reverend Kramer and the caretaker were arrested and interned as enemy aliens in October 1914. They were among 620 men of ‘alien’ nationality arrested in Manchester and Salford that month, in compliance with the Home Office’s order to intern men between the ages of 17-45. By November 1914, Kramer had been sent to Germany in exchange for a British POW. The entire Kramer family left with him, and he was finally able to take up his new ministerial position in Germany. He stated “I feel no resentment whatever, on the contrary the authorities treated me very courteously.”
In June 1915, Mrs Margaret Isabella Schlagintweit and her daughter, Theresa (the wife and daughter of Captain Schlagintweit) had to leave Manchester following an extension to the Alien’s Restriction Order issued by the Home Office. The Order recommended all women of German, Austrian or Hungarian nationality and men of these nationalities who are of fighting age should take the steps to leave the country, otherwise their deportation could be made compulsory. Manchester police authorities issued this notice so that these women would leave the city. However, British-born women who had become an ‘enemy alien’ by marriage (i.e. taken on their husband’s nationality as was the law) were exempt from the Order and other exemptions could be gained through the Home Office. Therefore, it is strange that Margaret and Theresa Schlagintweit had to leave Manchester as both women were born in Scotland. I can only assume that they left due to the hostility attached to their family because of Captain Schlagintweit’s prominent position in society. Mrs Schlagintweit died in Bavaria in May 1918. Theresa eventually emigrated to the USA.
By September 1917, the building was once again in use, not as the German Church but instead as a meeting place for the International Bible Students’ Association. The group would meet in the Wright Street building every Sunday at 6:30pm to discuss scripture.
Post-First World War
As noted by Su Coates, the German community in Manchester was destroyed by the First World War and “the ill-will” prevailed until the outbreak of the Second World War, which “sealed its fate.” The German Church slowly regained its congregation in the inter-war period but not to the same extent it had done pre-war. It was not until 1923 that the community finally rejoined at the Church.
Captain Schlagintweit was pronounced dead by the Manchester Evening News in July 1917, supposedly in battle with the French. However, he survived the war and in 1926 he wrote to his acquaintance Charles Prestwich Scott, owner of the Manchester Guardian, for help with his application to return to England. Scott politely informed him he did know anyone who was in a position to help and its unlikely Schlagintweit was ever successful.
By 1930, the Church on Wright Street was once again operating under its German name. There were celebrations in 1930 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Church. Throughout this period it often had no official minister and ministers from other churches in the country had to step in. The German Church continued to be used by the community until 1948, after that the building was sold. A new German Church was opened in Stretford in 1968.
The Stephen Joseph Studio
The Church was purchased by the University of Manchester in 1949. By the 1890s, Owens College had only consumed parts of Oxford Road, Burlington Street and Exmouth Street. The majority of the houses, shops, pubs, schools and churches and the mixture of working-class and middle-class communities which used them were still intact in the nineteenth century. The campus slowly grew larger and larger until the 1950s and 1960s when it suddenly expanded across huge chunks of land around Oxford Road.
This was part of a strategic redevelopment of the south of the city by Manchester City Council. Under their 1961 Development Plan, the Chorlton-upon-Medlock area was to be redeveloped as a university precinct. City authorities were urged “to acquire land required for particular proposals or to safeguard proposals by exercising control over interim non-conforming development in the area.” This decisive action, along with the construction of the Mancunian Way and ongoing post-war slum clearance programmes swiftly changed the nature of Chorlton-upon-Medlock. The large working-class population was removed from the area and rehoused. The majority of the historic domestic properties were demolished, from back-to-back slums to grand Victorian villas. Somehow in the midst of all this the former church was saved.
The former church was used by the drama department, probably because of its vast space and acoustics. Stephen Joseph (1921-1967) was a stage director and veteran of the Second World War. He was appointed a fellow of the drama department at the University of Manchester in 1962 and eventually became a lecturer. Sadly, he passed away from cancer aged only 46. The Stephen Joseph Studio was named in his memory.
Today the building probably draws more attention than it ever did due to its seemingly unusual placement. The very fact it has survived is nothing short of a miracle. Today, its name perpetuates the life of Stephen Joseph and the walls themselves tell the story of a long-lost community and some of the darker tales of Manchester’s past.
Researched and Written By Thomas McGrath
- Su Coates, ‘Manchester’s German Gentlemen: Immigrant in a Provincial City, 1840-1920’, Manchester Region History Review, Vol. 5, No. 2, 1991-92, pp.21-30
- Jenny Ho, ‘The Stephen Joseph Studio’, 2011 https://manchesterhistorian.com/2011/the-stephen-joseph-studio/
- Rowland Nicholas, Manchester Development Plan 1961, Written Analysis, (Manchester: Manchester City Council, 1961)
- Panikos Panayi, Prisoners of Britain: German Civilians and Combat Internees during the First World War, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), p.139
- Maurice Spiers, Victoria Park, (1971)
- Jonathan Westway, ‘The German Community in Manchester, Middle-Class Culture and the Development of Mountaineering in Britain, c.1850-1914, The English Historical Review Vo. 124, No.508, (June 2009), p.575
- University of Manchester Special Collections: GB 133 GDN/A/S17
- Britain From Above: https://britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EPW055077
- MG, 8 April 1854, p.7
- MC – 28 October 1854 – p.12
- MT – 12 May 1855 – p.5
- MC – 2 October 1858 – p.1
- MC – 31 March 1860 – p.1
- MC – 14 April 1870 – p.5
- MC – 18 June 1888 -p.6
- MC – 15 September 1894 – p.6
- MC – 14 June 1913 – p.6
- MC – 28 January 1914 – p.8
- MC – 7 July 1914 – p.9
- MCGLA – 1 September 1914, p.2
- MG, 23 October 1914, p.6
- MG, 26 November 1914, p.9
- MEN, 28 November 1914, p.1
- MCGLA, 1 March 1915, p.5
- MCGLA, 2 March 1915, p.7
- MC – 16 April 1915, p.6
- MEN – 11 May 1915 – p.5
- MC, 11 May 1915, p.6
- MEN, 12 May 1915, p.5
- MC – 12 May 1915, p.1
- MEN – 12 May 1915, p.6
- MEN – 13 May 1915, p.6
- MG, 13 May 1915
- MC – 14 May 1915, p.6
- MEN – 20 May 1915, p.3
- MEN, 24 May 1915, p.4
- MCGLA, 17 June 1915, p.5
- MCGLA – 25 June 1915, p.5
- MC – 21 September 1915 – p.5
- MEN, 7 July 1917, p.3
- MEN – 1 September 1917 – p.2
- MG, 12 June 1918, p.8
- MG, 27 October 1930, p.11
- MEN – 1 April 1939, p.4